Friday, November 22, 2013
I suspect that headline got your attention, right? Before you starting questioning my sanity, the idea -- and the reasons -- are offered by none other than Nobel-prize-celebrated economist Paul Krugman in his New York Times editorial, "Expanding Social Security." Here's a taste: "America’s overall retirement system is in big trouble. There’s just one part of that system that’s working well: Social Security."
Update: By coincidence, at almost the same time I posted the original link to Krugman's editorial, Blogging Colleague Becky Morgan posted a piece about "70" potentially being a better age to begin full retirement benefits, linking to a report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Krugman addresses the "70-is-better-because-people-are-living-longer" argument, pointing to a disparate impact on those with low income and less education, who have not seen a significant rise in life expectancy. Useful point/counterpoint materials for discussion, perhaps.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Another consequence of tough financial times is the unaffordability of professional long-term care. But in Greece, that phenomenon has an additional component, as families apparently need the elder's pension to make ends meet in the family home. Pennsylvania Elder Law attorney Dionysios C. Pappas (great name, right? Although we all call him "Dennis"), shared an article from Greece, "Care Homes See Mass Exodus," and suggested these key excerpts:
“…Grandma and grandpa’s pension has become the main source of income for thousands of Greek families struggling with unemployment, along with rising living costs and taxes. This shift has been accompanied by a mass evacuation of retirement homes across the country as elderly family members move in with their children and grandchildren in order to make ends meet…”
“…Greece has around 200 nursing homes for the elderly, half of which are private facilities while the other half are run by nongovernmental organizations and the Orthodox Church. Their total capacity is estimated at 15,000 people…before the crisis, these facilities were operating at 100 percent capacity. Today, however, this has dropped to 80 percent as one-fifth of their patients have
“…Taking elderly relatives out of retirement homes has become something of a 'solution’ to the unemployment problem…Most of the unemployed people in this country are surviving on the pensions of their parents or grandparents anyway rather than on their unemployment benefits. If unemployment continues to rise, then so will the evacuation of nursing homes…”
Thanks, Dennis, for providing this comparative information on caregiving.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
As my colleague Kim Dayton reported late last month, the National Women's Law Center has reported new statistics showing a disturbing, 2012 increase in poverty for woman over 65. The New York Times in a weekend editorial takes up the implications of the latest stats, warning against planned cuts in cost-of-living benefits under Social Security.
Hat tip to Professor Ann Murphy at Gonzaga, with special thanks for sharing the editorial -- and supportive words -- during our respective late night writing sessions!
Friday, September 27, 2013
Despite modest gains in the economy in 2012, national poverty rates remain virtually unchanged from last year. However, a new study highlights one group that has unexpectedly fallen deeper into poverty: elderly women. Among women 65 and older, the ‘extreme poverty’ rate rose 18% in 2012. Extreme poverty is defined as an annual income of $5,500 or less for older individuals living by themselves. “The cause has to be something that hits elderly individuals particularly hard,” said Kate Gallagher Robbins, a senior policy analyst at the National Women’s Law Center, who conducted the study. ”We also know that poverty for elderly men and women was statistically unchanged so we are talking about a group of individuals who went from being poor to extremely poor.”
The extreme poverty rate for elderly women ticked up to 3.1% in 2012 from 2.6% in 2011. An additional 135,000 elderly women became categorized as extremely poor, bringing the total number of elderly women in extreme poverty to 733,000. Sixty-two percent of elderly women in this group are white, non-Hispanic, 16% are Hispanic, 17% are black, 4% are Asian and 2% are Native American.
The National Women’s Law Center is currently exploring potential reasons for the sudden increase.
“One factor might be cuts in recent years to Social Security Administration funding which may be making applications for [Supplemental Security Income] more difficult,” Robbins wrote in an email to MSNBC.com. “Without Social Security, almost 15.3 million more elderly individuals would have been poor in 2012, yet many policy makers are debating switching the cost-of-living adjustment to the chained CPI which will reduce the value of benefits for current beneficiaries. Clearly these data show that making such cuts would be unconscionable.”
Another cause for the rise in the extreme poverty rate for this group may have to do with unemployment insurance benefits. Since older workers are more likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time, the likelihood that their unemployment insurance benefits expired, or even cut, between 2011 and 2012 is high.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The National Senior Citizens Law Center recently released "Why SSI Needs an Appeal Process that Works," NSCLC's first white paper describing the fate of non-disability claimants who experience improper suspensions or reduction of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, serious problems compounded by the lack of an effective and fair appeals process. Working with Legal Service programs and advocates around the country, NSCLC has identified pervasive flaws in the system, including the Social Security Administration's failure to:
- Process appeal requests;
- Continue benefit payments during the appeal;
- Conduct conferences required by law; and
- Issue adequate written decisions, permitting effective review or reconsideration.
These due process violations often go unchallenged because of the inability of claimants to find attorneys skilled or interested in handling appeals. The Social Security Act does not provide for awards of attorneys fees to successful claimaints on non-disability SSI appeals. On almost all levels, the system is stacked against the non-disability SSI claimant. NSCLC attorney Kate Lang explains:
"For the low-income individuals who depend on SSI benefits to access housing, food, medical care and other necessities, their inability to pursue an appeal effectively can have immediate, severe consequences. When their income is incorrectly stopped or reduced, these vulnerable individuals face hunger, homelessness and the inability to access vital medications."
NSCLC attorneys are advocates for the nation's elderly poor, and urge specific systemic change. For news stories tracking NSCLC projects to secure the health and financial security of older persons, see NSCLC in the News.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Via the Wall St. Journal:
A white paper put out by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College noted that 83% of married couples can benefit from “unusual claiming strategies” commonly known as “file and suspend” and “restricted application.” Both claiming strategies take advantage of the simple fact that for every year that social security benefits are delayed beyond full retirement age, payments increase 8% until age 70. In this time of low interest rates, delaying social security is one of the best financial bargains available to workers. Both strategies ease the pain of waiting by claiming spousal benefits. Once having reached full retirement age (currently 66), a spouse is eligible to to receive benefits based on the earning of a partner. One member of a married couple claims a spousal benefit first and then claims a higher full retirement benefit based on his or her own earnings at a later time up to age 70. Spousal benefits are 50% of the partner's benefit, so some cash is flowing while waiting out as much of the time as possible to age 70. There is no penalty for receiving the spousal benefit during this interim period. For a married person to get spousal benefits, the primary beneficiary must first claim their benefits.
Under file and suspend , the primary beneficiary claims his or her benefit and then suspends receipt. The spouse then claims a spousal benefit. In this case both members of the couple wait to receive the higher deferred benefits, but the couple is receiving the spousal benefit during the interim period. If both defer their benefits, the total benefits the couple can receive can be quite high. If they both wait until 70 to claim their own benefits, their benefits will be 32% higher than the benefits they would have received if they had both claimed at full retirement age.
The second related strategy is filing a restricted application . While this strategy seems to be less well-known than file and suspend, we have found that this is more often the best strategy for a married couple. With a restricted application, the primary beneficiary still needs to claim before the spouse can receive a spousal benefit, but the primary beneficiary doesn't suspend. He or she simply takes a benefit when the claim is made....
Read more in the WSJ.
Friday, September 13, 2013
From the good folks at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, we have a webinar, providing an update on their victory in Clark v. Astrue. That's the class action case where NSCLC was successful in challenging the summary suspension of Social Security or other benefits for individuals with pending arrests warrants or other criminal record entries.
The free NSCLC/NCLC on-line program takes place on September 25, 2013, at 2 p.m. EDT. Details, including registration, available on the NSCLC website: "Fugitive Felons: Clark v. Astrue Implementation for SSI, Social Security & Similar Provisions in Other Benefit Programs."
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
We are seeing a lot of information coming out from the federal government as a result of the Windsor ruling. Most recently, a colleague sent me a link from the IRS site with Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Same-Sex Couples (last updated July 2, 2013). Among the 8 FAQ (in no particular order) are: "Can same-sex partners who are legally married for state law purposes file federal tax returns using a married filing jointly or married filing separately status?"; "Can a taxpayer use the head-of-household filing status if the taxpayer’s only dependent is his or her same-sex partner?"; and "If a taxpayer adopts the child of his or her same-sex partner as a second parent or co-parent, may the taxpayer (“adopting parent”) claim the adoption credit for the qualifying adoption expenses he or she pays or incurs to adopt the child?".
Meanwhile, over at Social Security, Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin issued a statement on August 9th "that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due." SSA offers several articles on benefits for same-sex couples.
The U.S. Department of Labor (by the way, they have a nifty little intro page about their upcoming 100 year anniversary) issued a revision to Fact Sheet 28F that includes in the definitions spouses in same-sex marriages. LexisNexis Legal Newsroom on Labor and Employment Law, has an interesting article on the extension of FMLA as a result of Windsor, written by Barran Liebman LLP attorneys.
Further, on August 14th, 2013, the Department of Defense announced that it was extending spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of civilian employees as well as uniformed service members. The DoD indicated the benefits would be available no later than September 3, 2013 for those with a valid marriage certificate.
"Entitlements such as TRICARE enrollment, basic allowance for housing (BAH) and family separation allowance are retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court's decision. Any claims to entitlements before that date will not be granted. For those members married after June 26, 2013, entitlements begin at the date of marriage."
The Secretary of Defense sent a memo that explained the actions and noted that since not all jurisdictions allow same-sex marriage, the DoD will issue a "non-chargeable leave" policy for military personnel who have to travel to a state to be married, with an immediately-effective memo supplementing the existing leave policy.
Stay tuned-we will keep you posted with further updates.
Photo by Kim Dayton, © 2013
Friday, August 23, 2013
Friday, August 16, 2013
Recently I was having lunch with a group of friends. One friend, younger than me, commented that she didn't like to tell people she was "retired," because it made her feel too old. We laughed and asked, "Would it be better to tell people you are 'unemployed'?" We all agreed that probably sounded worse.
But, is "retired" really such a dirty word? For some, perhaps yes. For example, AARP used to be an acronym for the "American Association of Retired Persons" but in 1999 the organization changed its official name to AARP, and membership is open to anyone 50 or over, regardless of working status.
Fortunately for researchers, "retired" and "retirement" are still viable terms that generate a lot of important issues. One of my favorite researchers is Gordon L. Clark at Oxford, who writes and speaks clearly and thoughtfully on a number of financial issues, including retirement. His co-authored Oxford Handbook of Pensions and Retirement Income sits on my quick access shelf.
Another resource for statistics and commentary on retirement-related issues is the University of Michigan's Retirement Research Center. Check their website for the latest publications, including data on the impact of proposed changes in Social Security rules on individuals' work and retirement decisions.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has announced that all federal benefits will be paid electronically. New enrollees and individuals receiving benefits must select an electronic payment method (direct deposit or prepaid debit card) by March 1, 2013. Programs affected by the change include SSA, SSI, SSDI and VA benefits. Note: This rule does not affect state-issued benefits such as WIC and SNAP food benefits, or child support. * People who do not choose an electronic payment option by March 1, 2013, or at the time they apply for federal benefits, will receive payments via the Direct Express® card so they will not experience any interruption in payment. * People already receiving benefit payments electronically will continue to receive payment as usual on their payment date and do not need to take further action. Created by the Treasury Department, the Go Direct® public education campaign enlists the support of more than 1,800 local, national and regional partner organizations to spread the word about the many benefits of direct deposit and the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card. Partners include banks, credit unions, social service agencies and community-based groups. For more information about the Go Direct Campaign, visit www.GoDirect.org.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has announced that all federal benefits will be paid electronically. New enrollees and individuals receiving benefits must select an electronic payment method (direct deposit or prepaid debit card) by March 1, 2013.
Programs affected by the change include SSA, SSI, SSDI and VA benefits. Note: This rule does not affect state-issued benefits such as WIC and SNAP food benefits, or child support.
* People who do not choose an electronic payment option by March 1, 2013, or at the time they apply for federal benefits, will receive payments via the Direct Express® card so they will not experience any interruption in payment.
* People already receiving benefit payments electronically will continue to receive payment as usual on their payment date and do not need to take further action.
Created by the Treasury Department, the Go Direct® public education campaign enlists the support of more than 1,800 local, national and regional partner organizations to spread the word about the many benefits of direct deposit and the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card. Partners include banks, credit unions, social service agencies and community-based groups.
For more information about the Go Direct Campaign, visit www.GoDirect.org.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
On May 1, Social Security launched a feature on its website, www.socialsecurity.gov, that allows workers to view an online version of their Social Security earnings and benefits statements. The program also allows you to estimate your retirement, disability and survivors benefits.
You can use this tool to show your kids how little you made when you started working (after you've reminded them that you walked 5 miles to get to school, without an iPod or cellphone). But more important, it can help you receive all of the benefits you're due, and make smart decisions about when to claim them.
Social Security used to mail workers an annual earnings statement, but suspended those mailings last year to save money. Starting in February, Social Security resumed mailing paper statements to workers 60 and older who aren't already receiving benefits. Later this year, it will mail paper statements to workers in the year they turn 25.
Source/more: USA Today
Mitt Romney, in a speech before a conservative group here on Friday, offered his most detailed plan yet to cut government spending and lower the federal debt, including an overhaul of Medicare and significant changes to Social Security. Speaking at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s annual meeting, Mr. Romney said his plan would cap spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product by 2016, and would require $500 billion a year in spending cuts. To accomplish this, Mr. Romney explained, he would eliminate all nonessential government programs, including Amtrak, return federal programs like Medicaid entirely to the states and improve the productivity and efficiency of the federal government. He would also immediately cut all nonsecurity discretionary spending by 5 percent across the board.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Call for Papers – Future of Elder Law Practice
William Mitchell Law Review, Vol. 37, Issue I (Fall 2010)
The William Mitchell Law Review is proud to dedicate its first issue of the 2010-11 academic year to Elder Law in its upcoming Volume 37 (Fall 2010). We are currently seeking papers that examine the future of elder law practice. Submissions may either take the form of shorter commentaries or longer law review articles. The deadline for submissions has been set for July 1, 2010.
The William Mitchell Law Review is highly regarded both regionally and nationally. Our Law Review recently ranked twenty-second in citations by judges and ranked fifty-seventh in citations by other law journals, culminating in an overall ranking of seventieth. Over the years, the William Mitchell Law Review has featured the works of various scholars and practitioners such as Congressman Tim Penny, and former Vice President Walter Mondale. The William Mitchell Law Review has also published nationally known legal experts ranging from Philip Bruner, to Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Byron White, and Harry Blackmun. Now, we would like to invite you to join us to publish in our upcoming volume.
Please direct inquiries to Executive Editor Sanjee Weliwitigoda at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send submissions to email@example.com or mail them to our Editorial Office. Please note that the Law Review prefers electronic submissions.
March 17, 2010 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Summary of the report:
For over 70 years, Social Security has been the foundation of retirement income for American workers and their families and has been instrumental in reducing poverty among the elderly. The Congressional Research Service estimates that if Social Security benefits did not exist, an estimated 44 percent of all elderly people would be poor today. Still, some people who receive Social Security retirement benefits remain vulnerable to poverty in old age. The elderly poverty rate in 2007 was 9.7 percent. In addition, the long-term financing shortfall currently facing the Social Security program is growing and has made reform of the program a priority for policy makers. Thus, the nation faces the challenge of improving long-term program solvency, while also ensuring benefit adequacy for economically vulnerable beneficiaries. Many Social Security reform proposals have suggested modifying the system to restore its financial balance by reducing benefits or increasing payroll or other taxes, and several also include options to address concerns about benefit adequacy for economically vulnerable groups of beneficiaries.
Economically vulnerable beneficiaries generally have limited income from other sources, such as employer-sponsored pension plans or personal savings, and therefore depend heavily on their Social Security benefits. Because they have limited resources, many of those beneficiaries also receive assistance from other programs for low-income individuals, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Medicaid; and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program; among others.
This report addresses the following key questions: (1) What are the options for modifying Social Security benefits to address concerns about benefit adequacy and retirement income security for economically vulnerable groups? and (2) What effects could these options have on benefits those groups receive from SSI, Medicaid, and SNAP?
Get the full report here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10101r.pdf
Monday, January 11, 2010
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. The Trustees project that program costs will exceed tax revenues in 2016, one year sooner than projected in last year’s report. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2037, four years sooner than projected last year. The worsening of the long-range outlook for the Social Security program is due primarily to the recent economic downturn and faster reductions in mortality than previously assumed.
In the 2009 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
- The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2016 -- one year sooner than the estimate in last year’s report.
- The projected point at which the Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2037 -- four years sooner than the estimate in last year’s report.
- The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.00 percent of taxable payroll -- up from 1.70 percent in last year’s report.
- Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $5.3 trillion in today’s dollars to pay all scheduled benefits.
“Today’s Trustees Report contains some disappointing, but not unexpected, news about the financial condition of the Trust Funds,” Commissioner Astrue said. “We should be neither casual nor hysterical about the revised insolvency dates. As with the economy as a whole, the Social Security system will weather this recession. However, the sooner we get on with the task of reforming the system, the easier it will be to make the tough choices that we all know we need to make.”
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
- Income including interest to the combined Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds amounted to $805 billion ($672 billion in net contributions, $17 billion from taxation of benefits and $116 billion in interest) in 2008.
- Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $625 billion in 2008.
- The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by about $180 billion in 2008 to a total of $2.4 trillion.
- During 2008, an estimated 162 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
- Social Security paid benefits of $615 billion in calendar year 2008. There were almost 51 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
- The cost of $5.7 billion to administer the program in 2008 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.
- The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 5.1 percent in 2008.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.
The 2009 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2009/.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The timely collection of relevant medical evidence from providers, such as physicians and psychologists, is key to the Social Security Administration (SSA) process for deciding whether an estimated 2.5 million new claimants each year have impairments that qualify them to receive disability benefits. The initial determinations are generally made by state agencies called Disability Determination Services (DDSs). We evaluated: (1) the challenges, if any, in collecting medical records from the claimants’ own providers and ways SSA and the DDSs are responding to these challenges; (2) the challenges, if any, in obtaining high-quality consultative exams and ways SSA and the DDSs are responding to these challenges; and (3) the progress SSA has made in moving from paper to electronic collection of medical evidence. We surveyed 51 DDS directors, visited 5 state DDSs, reviewed sample case files, and interviewed officials with SSA, DDSs, and associations for claimants and providers. \
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends SSA identify DDS evidence collection practices that may be promising, evaluate their effectiveness, and encourage implementation of successful practices in other states, as applicable. To do so, SSA should cost-effectively compile and assess additional data on the collection process. SSA should also work to identify and address barriers to expanded use of its online medical evidence submission options.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68 No. 3
Researchers David Autor and Mark Duggan have hypothesized that the Social Security benefit formula using the average wage index, coupled with a widening distribution of income, has created an implicit rise in replacement rates for low-earner disability beneficiaries. This research attempts to confirm and quantify the replacement rate creep identified by Autor and Duggan using actual earnings histories of disability-insured workers over the period 1979–2004. The research finds that disability replacement rates are rising for many insured workers, although the effect may be somewhat smaller than that suggested by Autor and Duggan.
This article examines pension participation and nonpension net worth of two cohorts of near retirees. Particularly, the authors look at people born in 1933 through 1939 who were ages 55–61 in 1994, and the more recent cohort consisting of people of the same age in 2004 who were born in 1943 through 1949. Data are from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of older Americans.
With the death of Robert Myers Ball at age 93 on January 29, 2008, the Social Security program lost one of its most committed supporters. In 2001, Ball's biographer, historian Edward D. Berkowitz, described Ball as "the major non-Congressional player in the history of Social Security in the period between 1950 and the present."
In a federal government career that lasted more than four decades, Mollie Orshansky worked for the Children's Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, the Social Security Administration, and other agencies. While working at the Social Security Administration during the 1960s, she developed the poverty thresholds that became the federal government's official statistical measure of poverty; her thresholds remain a major feature of the architecture of American social policy and are widely known internationally.
Several features from our Web site are also reprinted in the Bulletin each quarter. These include